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The Death of Political Satire


Not that we don’t already have a long list of reasons for wanting to see Donald Trump driven out of office, but one more item to add to the list is that this man’s limitless boorish behavior has more or less ruined any chance of our resorting to political satire (one of my favorite genres) to mock him. Yes, we can still ridicule him, deride him, sneer at him, but he’s made it almost impossible to properly “satirize” him.

Although there are no hard, fixed rules in regard to making movies, generally speaking, for political satires (e.g. Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, One, Two, Three, Bob Roberts, Wag the Dog, et al) to be effective, they need either an crystal-clear political ideology or a soulless realpolitik methodology to serve as the dynamos fueling their humor.

In short, you need something tangible and durable to work with, a vein that can be mined as long as necessary. Because without one or the other—without an unambiguous, readily identifiable peg on which to hang your hat—your script is going to drift away from the realm of satire and wind up as boilerplate comedy.

Also, political satire, when done well, tends to be subtle rather than overly explicit. Political satire, when done well, is more apt to use a scalpel than the chainsaw. But even those few holdouts (Kellyanne Conway, Larry Kudlow, Mike Pompeo, et al) who still profess loyalty to Trump have to admit that there is nothing remotely subtle about him.

Nope, nothing subtle about this shallow, self-avowed “pussy-grabber” who guaranteed that the Mexican government would pay for erection of The Wall, then spontaneously asserted that he would have made a great military general, then asked to buy Greenland, and then accused any Jew who voted Democratic of being disloyal to Israel. Yep, nothing particularly subtle here. Which is why—in all his pathetic, self-aggrandizing glory—he cannot be satirized.

Seriously. Where would one begin? What paradigm could we possibly make fun of that he himself hasn’t already exhausted? Because two of the most reliable elements of satire are irony and exaggeration, the Trump White House leaves us with no place to go. Think about that. How would one go about “exaggerating” Donald Trump? The man is already a walking, talking exaggeration. It would be like trying to “exaggerate” a circus clown.

As for Trump’s political ideology, he doesn’t have one. He may have run and won as a Republican, but when it comes to fiduciary restraint, the nominal cornerstone of conservative economics, he has no concept of it, having mindlessly and impulsively caused the deficit to soar. Reminded of that fact, he denies it of course. Right out of his executive playbook.

His lack of ideology has caused professional Republicans to despise him. Former House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are two of them. According to Michael Wolff in Siege, McConnell and his wife, former Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, loathe Trump so much, they actually take turns mimicking him for the amusement of their guests.

And as for methodology—referring to day to day operations of the White House—this is where reality transcends art, and where truth is indeed stranger than fiction. We all recall the bombshell anonymous op-ed essay in the New York Times, on September 5, 2018.

This was the anonymous essay where a White House “insider” went on record as saying that the government of the United States—to the extent that the White House represented that government—was in a state of chaos. And chaos is not a methodology. Chaos is the antithesis of a methodology. And because chaos is, by definition, unquantifiable, how would you satirize it?

In any case, perhaps the only real hope we can cling to is that the prediction of Anthony (the “Mooch”) Scaramucci, Trump’s former Communications Director, is correct. Granted, Scaramucci held that ranking position for only an hour or two before Trump turned around and fired him, but nonetheless, he still has connections.

The Mooch has predicted that Trump will not seek re-election in 2020—that the erratic and irrational behavior (e.g., referring to himself as The Chosen One) that we are all witnessing is evidence of an impending and shattering nervous breakdown that will render him unable to continue in office.

Mental illness is nothing to make light of, not even when it afflicts someone we deplore. On the other hand, political satire is too valuable a genre to simply write off. Fortunately, as Neil Simon demonstrated in The Prisoner of Second Avenue, even a nervous breakdown, when placed in the proper hands, can be satirized. So bring it on.

More articles by:

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

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